Weaving together fact and fiction

Weaving together fact and fiction

Posted on November 13 by Michael Januska in Fiction, Mystery, Recent Releases
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If you grew up in Windsor, you probably first learned about Prohibition through stories told to you by your grandparents. These bootleggers and their wild adventures along the Detroit River are a part of local folklore. As a kid, I didn’t really care how much of it was true – I just thought they were great stories. Then along came Marty Gervais’ The Rumrunners, full of photos, newspaper excerpts, and interviews, and that made it real.

Years later, I thought I might try my hand at writing stories based around these accounts, weaving together fact and fiction. I started with a family living in a farmhouse down-river — a widower and his two sons — and just started experimenting, throwing them into situations and seeing what might happen. I tend to write like that.

In my first novel, Riverside Drive, soldiers — some dealing with post-traumatic stress, others crippled or severely injured — are returning home to a recession and a flu epidemic. Bootlegging became one of the best options for men looking for gainful employment. Enter my protagonist, Jack McCloskey, who somehow manages to pull himself out of a deep, dark hole and rise to the top of gangland Windsor.

Another source for the McCloskey character came from A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring ’20s by Roger Kahn. The legendary boxing champion seemed like a good model — in looks and personality.

By contrast, my female protagonist, Vera Maude, is a librarian – a bohemian-type looking to escape this factory town. Her name comes from a great-aunt of mine who lived only few months. She was born at the turn of the last century, and I tried to imagine what kind of a life she might have lived.

I began writing Maiden Lane before Riverside Drive was finished. I remember realizing I was falling into that trap of writing the same book all over again. I wanted to keep the characters, the milieu, and some of the themes, so I needed a twist. I started looking at 1920s pulp magazines such as Black Mask, where some of Dashiell Hammett’s earliest stories appeared. Many tales revolved around the occult and the supernatural. Maiden Lane became kind of a nod to popular fiction of the time.

The action in Prospect Avenue begins just moments after the conclusion of Maiden Lane. Once more I was looking for a fresh way of framing everything, and sensing the direction things were moving, I decided to go with vaudeville. There’s quite a bit of variety in the chapters — in content and in length — so it’s not unlike an evening spent at a vaudeville show.

This fit well with McCloskey going into the nightclub business. It also gave me the opportunity to further develop the character of Pearl Shipley. She would become the club’s entertainment director. In researching, I spent a great deal of time watching vintage vaudeville performances and listening to popular music of the day on YouTube.

Police corruption has also been an underlying theme throughout, and there’s no shortage of it in Prospect Avenue. Back in the day, the Border Cities Star had a column that covered crimes and misdemeanors. I’ve found it invaluable, though sometimes one has to read between the lines. Once again it gives me the opportunity to marry fact with fiction.

I enjoy writing with a large cast of characters. Some stay on their own path, sometimes they cross paths. Sometimes I wind them up and watch them go. I’m one of those writers who doesn’t necessarily want to know what happens next. After all, I think that can ultimately make for a more enjoyable read.

Michael Januska

Posted by Kendra on October 30, 2014
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Michael Januska

Michael Januska has worked with books his whole life, both as a bookseller and for several publishing companies. Stories from Januska’s Prohibition-era Border City Blues novels have won two consecutive Scene of the Crime short story prizes. He is also the author of Grey Cup Century. He lives in Toronto.